Several hundred pro-government demonstrators protested outside the office of a media group on Saturday, calling for it to be shut down after reports that it received funds from an organisation linked to business tycoon George Soros. The largely Malay group, which calls itself “Red Shirts”, has alleged that foreign funds received by the popular news portal, Malaysiakini, was to be used to influence the next general election with an aim to topple Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government.
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The protest is expected to be dwarfed by a massive rally planned by democracy group Bersih on November 19, which will call for the resignation of Najib over corruption allegations. Dressed in red shirts, the demonstrators were chanting “close down, close down! close down Malaysiakini!”.
“We don’t want outside interference in our country,” said Red Shirts leader Jamal Yunos, who is also a member of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party. Over a hundred riot police officers were stationed in and around the Malaysiakini offices.
The controversy erupted after whistleblower site DC leaks revealed documents that allegedly showed Open Society Foundations (OSF), founded by Soros, was funding local organisations to influence the outcome of the next general election that is due to be called by 2018.
Malaysiakini and other organisations such as Bersih were linked to funds from OSF. Malaysiakini has said the funds from OSF were only used to produce more stories on Sarawak, and constituted a small portion of its revenue. Editor-in-chief Steven Gan told a news conference after the protesters dispersed that none of its shareholders or funders had any influence over editorial policy.
“You can ask any of our journalists or editors … that’s completely impossible,” he said. He added that he didn’t think there was any law that would enable the government to shut them down. Jamal had earlier vowed to “tear down” the offices of Malaysiakini by gathering more than 20,000 protesters.
“The threats against Malaysiakini are the latest instance of the right to freedom of expression coming under attack in the country,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Friday. Najib’s administration has cracked down on the media and civil society in an attempt to silence criticism over his involvement in a money-laundering scandal at state fund 1MDB.
In July, US prosecutors filed civil lawsuits alleging that 1MDB had been defrauded of more than $3.5 billion. Najib has denied any wrongdoing and said Malaysia would cooperate with all international investigations.